sanctification by grace

i believe in the sufficiency of grace.
whether or not i am living that out is always a challenge.

we find salvation by grace, but where i have fallen short is the sanctification of self that follows in response.

like salvation, sanctification can only come by grace.

i've spent much of my life believing in Christ, asking for his great help for my salvation, believing i am redeemed in his mercy, and then attempting to pull myself up by my bootstraps so that i might walk with the Lord, as if i could put together all my broken pieces on my own.

my logic here is that i want to be worthy of God's grace, although that is never something i could acheive on my own. yet because of my pride, i often try to make myself presentable before the Lord without his help in a way to prove my worth. but that in and of itself is contradictory to the sufficiency of grace.

i first sought Christ because i recognized i was powerless to save myself. that i needed help to deal with my deeply rooted sin. and in the beauty of his provision, i praise him that i am saved. but after that, i still operate under the assumption that my spiritual growth towards maturity still wholly depends on me.

but the truth is that i am no better at sanctifying myself as i am at saving myself. so if i am in Christ, if i am now truely "holy and blameless" as Ephesians 1:4 would indicate, why am i still trying to 'make myself holy' by depending on myself?

Tom L. Eisenman writes, "The beginning of holiness does not lie first in our determined effort to clean up our lives. The road to holiness always begins with submission to God as the prime mover in the sanctifying process. Our highest priority is our relationship with Christ."

to what avail then could i ever present myself worthy to the Lord? to whom am i trying to prove i've got it all together, and that i don't foremost need the Lord's help? since when did following the commandments of the Lord imply one must first be holy and righteous on their own before they can follow in the way of God? this has never been true. all are broken before they ever receive the Lord, and will continue to be. grace may not be an immediate fix to the sin-problem. but it is sufficient.

the truth is that as a christian, i am broken. 1 John 1:8 says, "if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." the christian life carries the expectation of lingering sin. like an injury you can't walk off.

but Eisenman notes: "the interesting thing about God's healing [is that] when he heals, he leaves the broken thing in place. Instead of fixing the broken thing, he brings his power through the Holy Spirit to overpower the brokenness..."

Romans 6:6 notes that with Christ our old self was crucified so that sin would be katargete, rendered powerless. it no longer has the power to control our lives. we gain new eyes to see it for what it is, and by the grace of God it has no control. Eisenman describes it in this way:

"God does not remove the boulders from the rapids of life; 
he raises the level of the water."

God is not the cleaning lady here to throw out all our junk, and clean house for us so that we are suddenly spotless and clean. no, God instead visits us and fills us, and by him the level of water raises, and all those boulders and those burdens have no affect on our lives anymore. they are rendered powerless to change us, and we are free to live our lives as his will originally intended.

as a christian, have i lived a life free from all my burdens? have i trusted everything to the Lord? the answer is no. in fact, often times following God becomes my burden! but the source of my anguish is not the Lord's commandments, rather the posture of my heart in following them. i wholly desire what 1 John 5 indicates for the christian life. that the commandments of the Lord would not be burdensome and that my life could rise above its boulders. but for that to be true, i need to return again to the sufficiency of grace. 

relevant to this discussion, C. S. Lewis compares a life of overcoming temptations to be like a child constantly falling down on a road traveling home. He writes,

"No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be v. muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one's temper and give up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the v. sign of his presence."

he first asserts that the more we fall, and as the journey seems long, and everything gets difficult, and we keep on falling, our largest temptations involve giving up. this is an example of what it is like to seek after the Lord. but if we cannot accept that both salvation and sanctification are products of grace, the journey on which we fall and have to pick ourselves back up will not lead to righteousness but frustration. to the guilt of not being able to achieve a self-setermined level of unreal perfection.

what i love in his analogy though, is that the very dirt we recognize to be covering us when we fall is the very proof that God is in us. our sensitivity to sin is a gift of God's spirit, and a sign of our salvation. without an inner struggle, we would truely still be lost.

my resolve: 

2 Peter 3:18 is a command. i need to return to the joy i've known to be found in submission to Jesus Christ. therein lies true freedom from my frustrations, and the ability to let the Lord deal with my brokenness without any walls, without having to do it all on my own. to let him raise the level of the water, that the waters may be peaceful and calm again. that is sanctification by grace. that is the will of God. who are any of us to stand in the way?

Christ died so that we might live. 

Christ died so that when i fall, i can pick myself up again. 

again i ask who are any of us to stand in the way of the Lord? when Peter challenged Jesus that he should not have to die in Matthew 16, Christ's reply was simple: "Get behind me satan." who are we to stand in the way of the Lord? who are any of us to deny God the rightful ability to share with us his grace.

The Lord is good. 


From A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken:

"Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or wd. not always be, purely aquatic creatures?"
~ C. S. Lewis

Then, if we complain of time and take such joy in the seemingly timeless moment, what does that suggest?

It suggests that we have not always been or will not always be purely temporal creatures. It suggests that we were created for eternity. Not only are we hurried by time, we seem unable even to get use to it. We are always amazed at it - how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We aren't adapted to it, not at home in it. 

If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.


I carry you with me, and it has me in pieces
my heart swinging like the reverend’s thurible
encased in metal, it censors my emotions
as they seep out pores in my side, drifting in the air
to those who do not have ears to hear
as the Father takes me down the aisle of my peers

They have not eyes to see me smoldering
the charcoal at the pit of my desires
as I throw caution to the wind 
and offer this holy sacrifice to God in fear:
“Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief,
give me a tongue and let my heart speak.”

Oh contradiction,
you have become the parish bell I ring;
but they hear not the bell I toll, they have only mouths to sing
can they not smell the incense burning, or even feel
my pain, for it's on the straight and narrow
I swing, like a ball and chain

(2/22/09, 5/12/09)

the fall.

i left my bike in dried up flower bed
the tires digging into the soil
treading on the easter lilies that once grew.
the metal kickstand dug like a knife into the dry ground
and the handle bars leaned against the house
white stucco flakes sticking to the rubber grips.

i had fallen.
the wing of my right arm scratched and bruised
rocks from the cluttered soil beside the path
embedded into my skin
and i carried the weight of my failure
until i reached the shower to wash myself clean.


Hosea 2

1 "Say of your brothers, 'My people,' and of your sisters, 'My loved one.'

Israel Punished and Restored
2 "Rebuke your mother, rebuke her,
for she is not my wife,
and I am not her husband.
Let her remove the adulterous look from her face
and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts.

3 Otherwise I will strip her naked
and make her as bare as on the day she was born;
I will make her like a desert,
turn her into a parched land,
and slay her with thirst.

4 I will not show my love to her children,
because they are the children of adultery.

5 Their mother has been unfaithful
and has conceived them in disgrace.
She said, 'I will go after my lovers,
who give me my food and my water,
my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.'

6 Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes;
I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.

7 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
'I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.'

8 She has not acknowledged that I was the one
who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil,
who lavished on her the silver and gold—
which they used for Baal.

9 "Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens,
and my new wine when it is ready.
I will take back my wool and my linen,
intended to cover her nakedness.

10 So now I will expose her lewdness
before the eyes of her lovers;
no one will take her out of my hands.

11 I will stop all her celebrations:
her yearly festivals, her New Moons,
her Sabbath days—all her appointed feasts.

12 I will ruin her vines and her fig trees,
which she said were her pay from her lovers;
I will make them a thicket,
and wild animals will devour them.

13 I will punish her for the days
she burned incense to the Baals;
she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
and went after her lovers,
but me she forgot,"
declares the LORD.

14 "Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her.

15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

16 "In that day," declares the LORD,
"you will call me 'my husband';
you will no longer call me 'my master.'

17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.

18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.

19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.

20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.

21 "In that day I will respond,"
declares the LORD—
"I will respond to the skies,
and they will respond to the earth;

22 and the earth will respond to the grain,
the new wine and oil,
and they will respond to Jezreel.

23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called 'Not my loved one.'
I will say to those called 'Not my people,' 'You are my people';
and they will say, 'You are my God.' "

I posted my commentary in the comments section

click the "Hosea 2" title at the top to view both the passage and my comments at the same time.

Hebrews 11:17-19

  17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, 
offered Isaac as a sacrifice. 
He who had received the promises 
was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 
18 even though God had said to him, 
"It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." 
19 Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, 
and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

Abraham had received an incredible gift from God, a son, which the Lord asked him to sacrifice for His sake, despite what he'd thought he'd heard from God. In fear, and in faith, he obeyed, and prepared the death of his son on the alter. 

The case of Abraham presents two reasonings for sacrificing his son for the sake of obeying the commandments of the Lord: 
  1. That God has the ability to raise people from the dead, and therefore could raise his son from the dead if he were to lay down this sacrifice at the alter, and the the Lord would fulfill His original promises of future generations being born through Isaac. 
  2. That Abraham had heard wrong about the Lord's promises, and the future generations to come, and that God had other, greater plans, and that God could be trusted to provide in spite of the death of his son through the sacrifice he would make. 
Regardless of the outcome, Abraham trusted in God. 
He had faith, he had fear; he obeyed even when the commandment of God 
seemed contradictory to everything he knew
and the Lord provided. 

99 Problems...

but my KICKS ain't one!

the new model off Jay-Z's shoe line (ROCAWEAR) has been released to the press, and let me say - I want them. bad. By definition - baller. and they're conveniently priced at $84. (any awesome designer shoe >$100 is fairly priced in my book)

In other Jay-Z news, check out my favorite remix of the year thus far:



"I came for your questions of what you don't know 
But you can't see the answers unless I go
So give me your hatred and give your diseased
Give me your tired and I'll take them with me
Cause I'm hanging here losing every part of me
Just to open your eyes to what you would never see
And to answer your questions there's no place that I'd rather be"
- Jon McLaughlin

Psalm 19

 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, 
       reviving the soul. 
       The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, 
       making wise the simple.

 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, 
       giving joy to the heart. 
       The commands of the LORD are radiant, 
       giving light to the eyes.

 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, 
       enduring forever. 
       The ordinances of the LORD are sure 
       and altogether righteous.

 10 They are more precious than gold, 
       than much pure gold; 
       they are sweeter than honey, 
       than honey from the comb.

 11 By them is your servant warned; 
       in keeping them there is great reward.

 12 Who can discern his errors? 
       Forgive my hidden faults.

 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; 
       may they not rule over me. 
       Then will I be blameless, 
       innocent of great transgression.

 14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart 
       be pleasing in your sight, 
       O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Southern Girl

her hair is damp with the moonlight
we watched rise over the trees
the dew settling in the grass

the trees battered by the wind
shake their trembling leaves 
mimicking the shivers in her voice

confessions carried in the breeze
cold that shoots up your spine
and haunts your mind like the fog

the trees are gluttons
thieves that stole away the water
in their pursuit of reaching the heavens 

with roots tangled like clasped hands
the trees sway sleeping in the night
as we lay awake beside the empty lake bed

and as i hold my southern girl
watching the passing night sky 
we lose track of time

who cares if the water rises again
when i'm holding her in my arms
the greenway and heaven meet

the stars above are a soft hum
whispering melodies on the breeze
slow dancing across the sky 

they look like gold on a cave wall
letting me know this treasure is mine
guiding my thoughts home


He is Risen!

Galations 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

it's been a long time since i have cried. 
to be honest, i can think of only two instances in the past year.
the world has a way of hardening the softest hearts,
bringing malice from admiration, depression from peace.
and it's not that i am a hard hearted person, but sometimes
it takes the sharpest swords to pierce the strongest armor. 
i am reminded of Hebrews 4:12: "The Word of God
is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword,
it penetrates, even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow."
the Word of the Lord is living and active, and I am reminded
He is Risen!
this morning, i cried for a third time.
 after i got up this morning, i watched the Mars Hill easter service 
with Mark Driscoll in Seattle. he presented the gospel, as was expected 
in a relevant and powerful way, proclaiming the Resurrected Christ,
but following was a call to repentance, which was fairly unique.
the call asked people to not only come forward and accept His grace
but to be baptized on stage as a symbol of a changed heart,
and a renewal of thoughts, lifestyles, actions, and deeds. 
admist intense worship, people came down to the stage,
and one by one were prayed over and dunked in and out of the water
in the clothes they came to the service wearing
as a symbol of a passing of their old self, cleansed. new.

i watched 
a pregnant, abandoned woman calling on the name of the Lord.
men and women, some my age, some older, boldly declaring faith.
a young girl weeping as she was brought under the water, 
laughing with joy when she arose.
a husband and wife, spiritually cleansed before hundreds of people.
a father, placing his daughter in the bath, and pulling her out
and capturing her in a loving embrace
as the worship band sang Gloria! Gloria! Gloria! Gloria!
i witnessed redemption, raw and pure
i witnessed unbridled emotion, tears and laughter
i witnessed the children of God coming home to their Father
i witnessed, from 3,000 miles away, grace
and i cried.

Easter has been a long time coming
surviving the trials of Lent
desiring the grace and redemption of God to feel renewed in me again.
we are often habitual, dirty, lonely people, who infinitely need the Lord
for repentance is not what we can do to gain God's favor.
repentance is realizing what God has already done, and to trust.
and i need to learn to trust God with all of me.

i long for God's intent
the rejoicing of my spirit
the joining of soul and body
at the culmination of the age

but until then, He is Risen!
sin is conquered, we forgiven
born again in living hope 
to celebrate this easter day


All My Tears

When I go don't cry for me,
in my Father's arms, I'll be
the wounds this world left on my soul
will all be healed and I'll be whole.

Sun and moon will be replaced
with the light of Jesus' face
and I will not be ashamed,
for my Savior knows my name

It don't matter where you bury me,
I'll be home and I'll be free
it don't matter where I lay,
all my tears be washed away.

(Jars of Clay, Julie Miller cover)

I know.

I don't have many words to describre grief
other than to say, "I know."


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[ Questions ]
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2. What is your favorite food?
3. What is your hometown?
4. What is your favorite color?
5. What is your favorite movie?
6. What is your favorite drink?
7. What is your dream vacation?
8. What is your favorite dessert?
9. What is one word to describe yourself?
10. How are you feeling right now?
11. What do you love most in the world?
12. What do you want to be when you grow up?

Tangled up in Blue

Sometimes, my mind feels as cluttered as the sky. 

Keep Away


Last sunday I got a call from Peter Lebhar - he's been recording his first EP this spring break, and said he needed a trumpet player for the first single, so I headed up to Jacksonville on tuesday. I got in town, we hit up Five Guys (which I'd never had before - expensive, but delicious!) and I went into the studio. Four hours and a two water breaks later, we'd written the parts and recorded the tracks. We did some mixing, and we left to have dinner with Peter's family. After a night at the mall, some swisher sweets on the back porch, and great conversation, I left for home the next morning. The trip was a lot of fun and very relaxing. I'm glad all my years of trumpet are going to a good use. =D

Peter Lebhar - Keep Away (Studio Mix)

Everyday I Have The Blues

I love going out and finding new music to listen to. Recent discoveries: the Ben Sollee - Daytrotter Session is awesome, and I really love the Dark Was The Night compilation (which I should really buy - considering in benefits AIDS research). Being on Spring Break, I've been really excited to get a chance to listen to new music, but more than anything? I've been listening to my old music.

I've recently had a hunger for the blues, but instead of running to BB King, or my Ray Charles, I've really dug into the work from the John Mayer trio. Say what you will about him being a pop musician, JM writes and plays incredible music. I have huge respect for his ability, his showmanship, and his style. He can go from intimate acoustic, to kickin' full band anthems, to swingin' blues seemlessly. That's something I can respect and appreciate. Not to mention he's a good soloist: John Mayer - Everyday I Have the Blues

My playlist this break:

Old Stuff:
John Mayer - Where the Light is
Josh Ritter - The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Something Corporate - North
Bon Iver - Blood Bank EP

New Stuff:
VA - Dark Was the Night
Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
DM Stith - Heavy Ghost LP / Curtain Speech EP
Ben Sollee - Learning to Bend

In the Wings:
Andrew Bird - Noble Beast
Grizzly Bear - Vekatimest

Contending Idolatry

January 29, 2008

This morning, the guys in my discipleship group came over for breakfast before we all went to class. We had a great meal, and excellent conversation, but what stuck with me after all was said and done, and we’d gone on our separate ways, was this idea of Idolatry, or dedicating ourselves to something that is not God.

I was thinking about what I did yesterday and I discovered that I’d dedicate at least three hours of my time to watching and reading the news, and less than half an hour to spending time with the Lord. So I decided to sit down and pray over what this meant, and I found myself in Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians, on Idolatry. Below is the passage (with my personal commentary in parentheses), followed by more of what I've learned on the subject on Idolatry and the pursuit of God. It's a bit long, so please stick with me if you have the time.

1 Corinthians 10: 1-14

1 For I do not want you to be ignorant (sounds like me already) of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. (This is a reference to Exodus. What Paul is doing is making a connection between us and our spiritual forefathers of the Jewish faith)

3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (This same connection, a community of people in the old testament, with whom the triune God, Elohim, was active in their affairs, much like the church today)

5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. (That is to say, although they were God’s children, not all of them were committed to the word of God and His teachings)

6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. (You can be a spiritual person, be part of a church, be one who Christ lives in and with, but still have your heart set on what is wrong, and be doing wrong things. Paul provides us with an example:)

7 Do not be idolaters, (the primary theme here) as some of them were; as it is written: "The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry." (Instead of having a drink, these people would get drunk, instead of eating, be gluttons, and would fornicate and lust after one another (commit homosexuality, bisexuality, or have sex before or outside of marriage) all while still being a part of the church - a reference to Ex. 32.)

8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. (a shocking event in Jewish history, where it is my understanding that a plague of snakes came and killed 23,000 people, and where the only thing found to be in common among them was their participation in sexually immoral acts with and for one another)

9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. (to not test the Lord – to not assume that God will overlook one small action here or a mess up there, that He will let us off the hook and that our actions don’t really matter in comparison to the rest of the things we do)

10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. (to not complain over this commandment of God: to not be dedicated to, or disciples of, the flesh, and to not go against the Lord’s intent for our lives)

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! (even those of us who are doing well on Monday may not find ourselves in the same place next week regarding our relationship with God. - But the urge here is to say that Paul doesn’t understand! That my situation is too hard, that no one can understand me, no one can relate to me; I suffer alone because my situation is too unique. But Paul goes on –)

13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. (whatever it is that you are struggling with, there are a bunch of people struggling with the same thing) And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. (so we can’t claim that we are a victim, that we cannot help ourselves. To say I have no choice, that I have to be like this, that I have to make this decision in my life, I had no choice) But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (but when temptation comes, there is always a possibility to get out of that sin, and a way to continue to honor God in the decisions that we make)

14 Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry. (Don’t eat too much. Don’t drink too much. Don’t have sexual sin… But how do are we suppose to do that? His response, simply, don’t go there – keep yourself away, run if you have to)


Now at first all of this seemed confusing. Aren’t all sins essentially equal? Sure, getting drunk is a sin, lying is a sin, arguing and grumbling against God is a sin, and sex before marriage or sex outside of marriage is a sin, just like pornography and perversion, so isn’t idolatry just another sin?

From what I’ve learned, I believe that Idolatry is not just any sin, but in fact the root of all sin. Martin Luther summarized the Ten Commandments (a) by noting the first two commandments are about idolatry, and all the rest follow. If you never broke the first two, you would never have problems with the other eight. The underlying cause of sins, like drinking or lying or obsession or addiction, is our idolatry to something that is not the Lord. It’s a matter of concentration. And Paul isn’t here condemning, he is merely forewarning of that in our lives that could and often will lead to other sins in our lives. Watching CNN is not a sin. What is a sin is letting that master us, the bulk of out time and energy, and losing our ability to do other things, like our homework or worshiping the Lord - the reason for which we are made. (Genesis 1:26-28, Romans 1)

That which we give our time, energy, money, love, our hopes, and our fears to, that becomes our God. The philosopher Peter Kreeft says, "The opposite of Christianity is not Atheism but Idolatry." That which takes our worship and adoration most poigniantly away from God is that which, in reality, has all of our love, adoration, worship. And those who call themselves atheists are not void of spirituality, as they claim. They devote themselves to science, they are people that worship their own mind, experience, and their own five senses. They devote themselves to rationalism, and by that make rationalism their God. (I often feel like atheists have more faith in their lives than I do, but that is beside the point)

My point is that we are all constantly in the act of worship, and constantly dedicating ourselves to something in our lives. The amazing resource that is defines idolatry as such, “worshiping something or someone other than the One True God of the Bible, or worshiping God in a way that is contrary to His Word.” (b) How many people in America worship their car? A band? Their religion, as opposed to their faith?

How many people (and Christians) find themselves to be overzealous, or so thirsty for justice that they will pursue evil, and openly condemn it, in any way they can, when the bible specifically tells us not to do just that! To not stir up dissention when we speak of God and represent His word (Proverbs 29:22), and to be a good witness of the Christ, Jesus, who did not come to condemn, but to lead, to love and to serve. (Mark 10:45)

Idolatry seems to be the over-pursuit of something that is good, and that later consumes us, and that is where we go awry. I once heard it said that the biggest difference between George Orwell and Aldous Huxley was that one said that our ultimate destiny was to be enslaved by that which we hate, while the other claimed our ultimate destiny is to be enslaved by that which we love. We love our family, our health, our car. Our knowledge, our boyfriend, our girlfriend, our job, our beauty, our style - and all of these things are good! But when we let those things master us, it is no longer permissible (1 Corinthians 6).

The pastor Mark Driscoll surmises the concept of having idols as this:

We each design ourselves a ‘little hell.’ Being poor, being ugly or fat, being unloved or alone or unappreciated. That fear of that hell then compels you to chose for yourself a false Savior-God, to save you from that hell, and then you worship that false Savior-God in an effort to save your from that self-described hell. For instance, many people are single, and for them hell is being single or unmarried, and their Savior becomes a spouse, or a boyfriend or girlfriend. And so they keep looking for someone to worship, to give themselves to so that person  can save them. Some are lonely, and their hell is loneliness, so they choose a person or a group of friends, and they worship that friend and would do anything for them, because they are their functional savior, and that is by definition Idolatry.

Much of this stems from our greatest fears. We all want success, we long for our knowledge to grow, or to never be alone, but we are scared of never being loved, to be misinformed, or to be a failure. And we need to ask ourselves what it is we run to when it all goes wrong. Do we run to food, or to alcohol. Do we run to sex or bury ourselves in work or a relationship, do we run to anger, violence, or despair. Idolatry turns out to be a very real and present danger in our pursuit of leading a good life, but we cannot serve God and Money (Matthew 6:24), or any other God that is not the One True God, creator and redeemer, Lord above all lords (who defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien by giving him food and clothing! - Deuteronomy 10).

So where should our priorities lie? It is clear that we cannot only devote ourselves to the Lord and expect to live a normal life, because that in itself would be enslaving ourselves in a way that prohibits us from functioning, and could be no different in our lives than being enslaved to any other sin. This is a bold statement, but we are not meant to live with one foot in the grave, we are to be mindful of the present day! Let me clarify.

Rob Bell describes people as being the compromise of Angels and Animals, the spiritual and the physical. He denotes this relationship in his book, Sex God (a book about the connections of sexuality and spirituality), in this way:

An Angel is a being with a spirit but without a body. When we deny the spiritual dimension to our existence, we end up living like animals. And when we deny the physical, sexual dimension to our existence, we end up living like angels. – And both ways are destructive, because God made us human… This is a primal struggle in all of us, and it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. The temptation was, and is, to trade our full humanity for something else.

Compare that to the passage in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6), where Jesus tells us to live for today and to, “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” and all the things we need (i.e. food, clothing) will be given to us as well. To seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, to give ourselves, our worship to the Lord, first, and live our lives by the standards and example of Christ; to abstain from idolatry, which leads to sin.

If and when we are able to seek the Kingdom first, the priorities in our lives will then start to align, and allow us to enjoy the created things here on earth in a healthy way, in a way we are meant to; one that does not include obsession. So where do my priorities lie?

What are we defining in ourselves? Hell is being fat. Hell is being poor. Hell is being stupid. Hell is not having enough free time. Hell is spending one more year at college. If I’m broke, I need money to be my savior. If pleasure is what I worship, I need pornography, or someone to date, and if I could just get out of that hell, I wouldn’t need to worship anything anymore. If I could just prioritize my life around this little hell, this discrepancy in my life, all my problems would go away, and I could be happy. We choose these idols, and we expect them to make us happy, to give us worth; a Savior to get us out, so we don’t have to live in this hell.

But I believe once that momentary hell has passed, it won’t be enough. When we worship an idol to meet the needs in our minds, we give our lives to worshiping something that will not satisfy. We are lonely, we find someone to date. We want a spouse, so we get married, and then that’s not enough, I need kids, a bigger house, a bigger tv. This isn’t a greed story, this is a success story, and it never ends within us.

John Calvin once said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” It takes that which is good - real estate, kids, sex, all good gifts that God gives - and perverts them into an obsession, and we get frustrated when they don’t continue to bless us, and don’t fulfill what we need them to do to save us from ourselves. The world operates at two extremes: There’s a hell, and we don’t want to be in it, and there’s a Savior, to rescue us from that hell, and all you need to do is devote yourself to that Savior, and you will be where you were meant to be all along.

Look to the media. You’re overweight? – we have a Savior, come join this diet, go to this gym, reach heaven. Devote yourself? – and you’ll be out of fat hell. Are you ugly? Well that’s ok, there’s a Savior in plastic surgery, a new wardrobe, and a heaven full of beautiful people. If you’re lonely, there’s a new website to save you from the pitiful hell you’re trapped in. Worship this Savior, give to that Savior, and your world will be a better place.

The problem is that Idolatry is not about grace. Idolatry is not about a Savior that loves you, serves you, or embraces you (not because of who you are, but in spite of who you are). It is a Savior that  doesn’t love you because you are good, but to make you good. Not because you are lovely, but to make you lovely. It does not follow a Gospel of grace, it is always searching for a way to make you better, smarter, skinnier, prettier, cooler, more loved than before, and if you could just reach that point, you could be saved, but you’ll never get there.

And the concept of religion is no different. It is not a religion that saves us, it is a God that saves us, who loves us through the example and sacrifice of His Son, and the enablement of the Holy Spirit. Religion tells us if we are just better, if we can just put in a few more hours, give a little more money, we’re in right standings with God, and our sins are clean, but God is not a God of deeds alone, He is a Lord of the heart. Religion can be a means, but it is never an end. It is the posture of our hearts and the meditations of our minds, and thereafter our actions and words that prove us before the loving Father. If you say you love the Father, but you are continually living in sin, than you are turning your back on the one you say you love. The word of God calls this the unforgivable sin, to have a full knowledge of sin, and to go deliberately against that truth (Hebrews 10:26-27, in the gospels – on many accounts, this is referred to as blaspheming the Holy Spirit, recognizing the Word of God, and choosing to disobey with full knowledge of our actions).

Clearly this state of living in constant sin carries a heavy cost, so how is this addressed? The way I see it sin is like bad fruit on a tree. And we could easily just pick that fruit, remove that idol or addiction from our life and just try to move on, but as long as that root of idolatry that leads to sin remains, we can never be free of that one obsession. That one overpowering desire that keeps us in our little hell. There’s nothing wrong with having kids one day, with having a drink, with working hard at your job, with participating in a religion. But we need to realize, as Paul says, that we are ignorant and that our hearts automatically lean towards idolatry and addiction. Luther calls this "the default mode for the human heart." i.e. My idol is free time, that’s why I never go to class. My idol is marriage, that’s why I keep dating losers. We can look at our lives and see a default pattern in them.

Our only solution is to break free of our idols, to cast them to the fire (like the golden calf in Exodus 32), and most importantly, not substitute them with a different idol! How often does a Christian look down on someone who gets drunk, because they once struggled with that same sin, but now they have saved themselves; that once were overweight, but now make fat jokes, because they had the dedication to go to the gym, and this person does not. Their idol may have been destroyed, but it has been replaced by their own self-worship of their accomplishments. This is why we seek first the Kingdom of God, and give it all up to Him who brought us to where we are today.

People who seek to be saved by their idolatry or their own works cannot succeed, because in the end all they are left with is pride, or depression – possibly even to the extent of being suicidal because they just can’t do it alone. The good news in all of this, is that we are not saved by ourselves, but by Jesus; by his works, his sinless life, his sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection. Our salvation comes through him, and luckily not by our own works, because they will never be good enough. Salvation does not come by a substitutional God, but by the creator God. He saves us from sin and from ourselves, by taking our place in a way we never could, bridging the divide created by sin that keeps us from reaching the one true heaven when we leave this earth.

Ultimately, we must replace our idols with the creator God, and rejoice in worship. Because if we are not praising God, we will worship that band we love, that knowledge we desire, that friendship we so long have craved for despite it all, because it is our default. Seek first the Kingdom, and we can rightly pursue a life in peace with God. I can have a drink without a need to get drunk, because I don’t worship alcohol, and it doesn’t rule over me, I rule over it.

I don’t need a friend’s approval, because I have my foundation in Jesus, and I can love and respect my friends, but I don’t have to elevate them to the level of Gods, and seek their approval that I am doing the right thing. I can live life with only one God, one who loves me and wants to spend time with me, and allow me to live life at its full extent, not worrying about self-defined hells. I can let the creator God be the creator, the Savior Jesus be my Savior and example, let the Holy Spirit facilitate my guidance through God’s word, and most importantly just let life be life, and an opportunity by which to appreciate the things within it.  We are all spiritual people; we are all worshipers. The question is not, "do I give my self to a Savior," but "which Savior I will devote my time, passion, and talents to" - and it is that Savior which will attest to whether you live in happiness, or despair.

Peace be with you, and thank you for reading.




a. The Small Catechism, by Martin Luther   (


c. It’s worth noting that most of my language and guidance on and in this passage was directly influenced by the works of Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Bible Church, in Seattle, Washington, and also by Mark Balmer of Calvary Chapel Melbourne, in Melbourne, Florida. This work is not all my own, but a reflection of God’s words and the works by the stewards of His teachings.

d. If you would like to talk to me about anything, in this note or not, please shoot me a message or comment below.

2008: Music in Review


1. Son Lux - At War with Walls and Mazes

For me, listening to this album has become a religious experience. It was recommended to me by Amanda Edgerton and quickly became the only thing I listened to this summer. Ryan Lott (aka Son Lux) was a composition major who married a dance instructor. He began creating electronic compositions for her studio early on, and by word of mouth and the passing of burnt cds his popularity grew among the dance community, and eventually earned him a recording contract. I have no words for the music itself, because it is beyond my own words to express, but i highly suggest you take a sabbath to reflect and to bathe and bask in this album. It will haunt you and guide you and bring you joy.  


2. John Mayer - Where the Light is  

The latest from one of Rolling Stone's top 3 guitar gods alive, this work has to be the best engineered live album I have ever heard. The mixing is quite literally perfect on every song, and that in itself is worth attention. And although most of the material on the album is not new, each song on the record is extremely well performed. Breaching all of his styles, Mayer lays down three sets, the first simple and acoustic, followed by a blues performance with his trio (complete with improvised solos), and ends with a set from his full band. What I admire most about Mayer's songwriting ability is that most up-and-coming bands could only dream of writing a pop song close to one of Mayer's worst, and every song on this album (in my opinion) could be a single. The king of the airwaves has done it again, and he heads into the studio this year.


3. Coldplay - Viva la Vida, or Death and All His Friends (Prospekt's March Edition)  

I will be honest, when this album originally dropped it was a huge disappointment for me. After three years of anticipation for one of my favorite bands to release ANY new material, I received the less-than-forty minutes that is Viva la Vida, and although I loved the album immediately, and although I was enthralled by the new direction they had taken, it felt empty. Of all the directions I felt like they could have gone in, i realized only some appeared on the album, and I selfishly wanted more. But when the Prospekt's March EP was released, it all came full circle. Anything I felt like was misrepresented, or not at all, on the album came to light with the EP. Therefore, considering the packaged release of what I consider the full release of Coldplay's most recent work, the Prospekt's March Edition takes the bronze for 2008.  


4. Vampire Weekend - self titled  

Vampire Weekend got plenty of attention this past year in the blog-world, and to be honest it was well deserved. To loosely quote blogger Anna Apocalypse, what was new and fresh in January of last year, is just as refreshing and new in January 2009. The album never disappoints the listener, and was very well pieced together. The pop anthems are catchy, and the occasional african drumming is a nice touch too. The lyrics don't always make sense, but this album was an instant indie classic, and for that, VW gets my respect as well.  


5. The Rescues - Crazy Ever After  

I am addicted to this band. A guy and two girls, with gorgeous three part harmony, soaring over a rich acoustic landscape. Most of my friends know I'm a sucker for all of the above, so there is no surprise I fell in love with this album. The hints of folk and country are slight and inescapable, but it only breathes more life into the album. I pray this is the new direction of pop music, because I cannot get enough of this album.  


6. Fleet Foxes - self titled

This is my bad. I should've gotten into this album a LONG time ago. I was just listening to so much, I missed it - and that is my mistake. By far one of the better albums of this decade. The five part harmony makes you feel like you're on the mountain with this band. You want an adventure - you'll find it here.


7. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight 

The Midnight Organ Fight is a folk-rock journey on the Scottish countryside tapped into the emotions of living life and fighting your demons, whatever they might be. Its sorrowful but angsty, and not an album you would mind getting stuck in your car radio the next three months. There's a lot here to like, they never stick to only one idea or one sound. Much to look forward to lyrically and musically with this album.


8. The Dodos - Visiter

   The duet of thrashing acoustic guitar and drums, the dodos make for great driving music. I fell in love with this album on the highway before anywhere else. Every song is well orchestrated, sometimes with a glockenspiel, and the album never gives up until the end.


9. Jack's Mannequin - The Glass Passenger
I grew up on Something Corporate, so it will be quite difficult for me ever to not like what Andrew McMahon does. In the wake of his battle with leukemia, which peaks its head a few moments on the album, this latest work was a long time coming, and despite a few discrepancies with shallow lyrics or awkward melodies, his California Piano Rock style continues to thrive. Generally a great album, and a constant favorite for driving at night with the window down.  


10. My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth

Shara Warden, alumni of University North Texas's opera program, is a brilliant singer. Her music is icy cold and chilling, listening to her album is often diving to the freezing depths of the sea. My favorite effort of hers to date. Also check out the four remix projects (notable mentions DM Stith and Son Lux remix albums) and her performance from this album on Daytrotter!


Honorable mentions:  

+ The Welcome Wagon - Welcome to the Welcome Wagon  

This might as well be the latest from work from Sufjan Stevens, considering he produced the album and orchestrated the songs as well. The Welcome Wagon is a welcomed (sry) fresh face on the "baroque pop" scene, that started in this Brooklyn pastor and his darling wife's own living room, performing for friends, and the music has not lost its religious potency, nor its unique tone. I am quite glad this band has found a home with Asthamtic Kitty. 

+ Noah & the Whale - Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down  

This album did not get a lot of love from pitchfork, but I found it to be darling. It's folky, it's up beat, and frankly - it is fun. I have nothing but "love love love" for this style, this band, and this album.

+ Land of Talk - Some are Lakes  

A more recent project out of the great up north, I learned of this band when I saw them open for Broken Social Scene this winter. I enjoyed their set, I found their album, and was pleasantly surprised to learn their live work sounded identical to the album. I also recently learned it was produced by Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver (currently my favorite band), so again, no surprises here that I would enjoy the album. The three-piece work is led by the cute indie songstress Elizabeth Powell (frequent member of the BSS) and the music is full of distortion and flavor.  

+ Thrice - The Alchemy Index, Vol. III & IV 

One of the most admirable recordings of the year, i truely hope this EP specifically is the direction Thrice hopes to pursue.

+ Girl Talk - Feed the Animals 

Mash-ups! Rap music! Oldies! At the same time! great for running.

+ Ingrid Michaelson - Be OK 

It's a girl her sings intelligently cute songs and occasionally plays the Uke. If you don't like that, you won't like her. That said, she is one of the best pop singer/songwriters in the past five years.

DM Stith - Curtain Speech EP  

This EP is fully of haunting - well orchestrated music, and is something very promising from Asmatic Kitty's new effort.


LIVE ALBUMS of 2008:  
1. John Mayer - Where the Light is 
2. Sara Bariellis - Between the Lines 
3. John Legend - Live from Philadelphia  
4. Underoath - Survive, Kaleidoscope  
5. Paramore - The Final Riot!